Independent videographer arrested while documenting L.A. homeless camp cleanup

July 1, 2021

Independent videographer Sean Beckner-Carmitchel was arrested while filming a homeless camp cleanup operation in the Harbor City neighborhood of Los Angeles, California, on July 1, 2021.

Beckner-Carmitchel told the U.S. Press Freedom Tracker he has been documenting such cleanup operations, which aim to remove trash and encourage unhoused populations to seek out shelters, for four months as the city has responded aggressively to a rise in homelessness in the county.

Upon arriving at the site alongside two activists, a worker with LA Sanitation & Environment approached Beckner-Carmitchel and told the group that they weren’t allowed to film in that area. After some discussion, he said, they reached an agreement that the group could observe and document the operation from a location a little further back, away from the trucks.

“Not long after, LAPD came over and told us we could not be there,” Beckner-Carmitchel said. “We were told to go one way; we complied. We were told to go the other way, and in the process of complying with that we were all detained and cited.”

In footage Beckner-Carmitchel captured when the Sanitation Department official first approached, his National Press Photographers Association credentials can be seen on a lanyard around his neck. Beckner-Carmitchel also identified himself as press to the officer, he said, and attempted to explain why he needed somewhere to observe the operation.

Beckner-Carmitchel told the Tracker that while the officer was placing him under arrest, the officer deliberately threw his phone to the ground, but the device wasn’t damaged.

Beckner-Carmitchel said the officer placed him in cuffs and sat him in the back of his vehicle for approximately 30 minutes.

Beckner-Carmitchel told the Tracker he was cited with violating Municipal Code 56.11.10(d) — “delaying/obstructing dept sanitation clean up operation” — and was ordered to appear in court on Oct. 28. If convicted, he faces a fine of up to $2,500. Beckner-Carmitchel said he believes the charges will be dropped before his hearing date.

The Los Angeles Police Department didn’t respond to an emailed request for comment.

The U.S. Press Freedom Tracker catalogues press freedom violations in the United States. Email tips to [email protected]

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